Extreme School Violence and Alyssa’s Law: “Time Equals Life”

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released a report examining 41 incidents of targeted school violence that occurred at K-12 schools between 2008 and 2017. Such incidents included shootings, stabbings and other acts of extreme violence. In their report, NTAC conducted an in-depth analysis of the motives, behaviors, and situational factors of the attackers, as well as the tactics, resolutions, and other operational details of the school attacks.

NTAC’s analysis of these tragic acts of violence suggests that many could have been prevented by implementing comprehensive targeted violence prevention programs.

One common risk factor that the NTAC report uncovered, is that only 17% of the schools that suffered attacks, had proper alert systems to notify members of the school community of emergencies via automated text messages or phone calls (NTAC, 2018). Not having an efficient crisis communication system leads to a delayed emergency response protocols that can cost precious lives. Because these acts of extreme violence end in a matter of minutes, cutting down emergency response times even by seconds can literally be the difference between life and death.

“Effective communication is vital to a safe and secure school and requires trust, openness, timely notification of community members, and the use of multiple methods.”

New Jersey School Boards

Law Enforcement Notification

In their guide School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence (NTAC, 2018), the U.S. Secret Service recommends that law enforcement be immediately notified if a student is thinking about or planning or engage in violence, so that they may assist in managing the situation. In order to do this, the school must have an effective emergency communication system in place.

Duration of the Attacks, Law Enforcement Notifications & Response Time

The U.S. Secret Service found that in over half of the cases (51%), outside law enforcement were notified between 1-15 minutes after the attacks had begun. When it comes to extreme school violence, early, instant notification is essential as the NTAC report found that none of the attacks lasted longer than 15 minutes.

In regard to response time, schools that had school officers had much quicker response times during attacks compared to outside law enforcement. For instance, in 29% of the cases, on-duty school officers were able to respond in one minute or less, while outside law enforcement was only able to respond in one minute or less in one case (2% of all cases) where officers were already on school grounds conducting K-9 drug sweeps at the time of the attack.

How Alyssa’s Law can help

School safety advocates throughout the United States are raising awareness on the need for rapid emergency communication systems to protect children in schools. In New Jersey, Alyssa’s Law, named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year old student who died among the 17 people killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in 2017, was signed into state law in February 2019.

The legislature requires New Jersey public schools to install silent panic alarms that can be activated in case of an emergency such as a school shooting. When activated, the alarm remains silent in the school buildings while alerting local law enforcement and rescuers of the emergency.

Back in February, Lori Alhadeff, Allysa’s mother hoped other states would follow suit and adopt measures requiring panic alarms. During an interview she pointed out:

“In a school shooting, it’s over in six minutes or less and time equals life”

(Adely, 2019)

Only a few months later, Florida state representatives filed a similar bill to mandate silent panic alarms in public schools directly connected to law enforcement in a state of emergency. Thanks to current technology, the silent alarm can also be activated through smart phones.

“Currently, public schools, law enforcement and local emergency services agencies in Florida utilize unstandardized and sometimes outdated diversity of technology to communicate with each other during emergencies. This would represent an enhancement to already existing emergency alert technology utilized by some schools and districts”

(Pfingsten, 2019)

Lawmakers are scheduled to debate the legislation in January 2020. If passed, the bill will be effective July 1, 2020.

Today more than ever, implementing effective strategies to ensure the safety of children in school is paramount. Having a reliable, rapid emergency communication system is not only essential but common sense, so schools can receive the help they need to prevent and mitigate acts of violence and protect the lives of children and school personnel.

“The kids on the 3rd floor might have lived if we had these panic buttons at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. In an active shooter situation, seconds matter and we need to make sure that that is a direct link to law enforcement, so they know exactly where the threat is.”

Lori Alhadeff, quoted by CBS Miami